Conservative Gary Vidal wins majority-Indigenous northern Sask. riding

Conservative candidate and former Meadow Lake mayor Gary Vidal is projected to win the majority-Indigenous northern riding of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River.

Gary Vidal defeats two female Indigenous leaders in five-candidate race

Incumbent Gary Vidal, the former mayor of Meadow Lake, won the riding with almost 50 per cent of the vote. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Conservative candidate and former Meadow Lake mayor Gary Vidal is projected to win the majority-Indigenous northern riding of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River.

Vidal edged out two female Indigenous candidates, Liberal Tammy Cook-Searson and NDP incumbent Georgina Jolibois, to turn the riding from orange to blue in 2019.

Shortly after taking calls from the conceding candidates, Vidal said he was feeling overwhelmed.

"I think the campaign federally plays a role and I think it — combined with my history of building relationships with people across this riding — hopefully paid off tonight," said Vidal.

"I've always tried to treat people with respect and dignity and I guess the saying 'respect begets respect' maybe came back tonight."

With 152 of 173 polls counted, the former Mayor of Meadow Lake had 43.5 per cent of the vote. Georgina Jolibois had 28.5 and Tammy Cook-Searson had 25.2 per cent. Green candidate Sarah Kraynick had 1.9 per cent of the vote and the PPC's Jerome Perrault had 0.8 per cent.

Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River is distinctive in its extreme geographical size, majority Indigenous population and history of close races. The 2015 result that saw Jolibois elected was decided by less than 100 votes.

Vidal was one of three contenders in the riding with a history of leadership: Liberal candidate Tammy Cook-Searson as chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Vidal as the mayor of Meadow Lake and Jolibois as the NDP incumbent and former mayor of La Loche. Tech entrepreneur Sarah Kraynick ran for the Green Party and Saskatoon-based Jerome Perrault was the candidate for the People's Party of Canada. 

Vidal is an accountant who recently sold his share in the business he owned and resigned from his role as Mayor of Meadow Lake, a small city with a population of about 5,300 that borders on the Flying Dust First Nation.

He told CBC in September he wanted to run for the seat because he was frustrated with the Liberal government's handling of the federal budget and because he wants to advocate for more economic development in the resources industries.

Before deciding to run for the seat he took a trip to Ottawa with his wife to try to picture a life in federal politics. Asked Monday how he feels now that his life as a parliamentarian appears confirmed, he said he will figure it out. 

"Honestly there's a bit of fear the unknown. I don't know what that looks like but I'm going to work hard to figure it out to represent the people of northern Saskatchewan."

Gary Vidal and his wife Lori. (Submitted)

The challenge for the five candidates was to get elected in a riding where concerns range from preventing Indigenous youth suicides, creating economic development and preserving Indigenous languages to lumber tariffs, crop exports, the carbon tax and the limits of legal gun ownership. The riding has been held by NDP, Conservative and Liberal candidates in the past 15 years.

Vidal was watched Monday's results from his office in Meadow Lake. Jolibois was in her home community of La Loche and Cook-Searson was in La Ronge after some last minute visits to communities in the afternoon. 

Cook-Searson says voter turnout may be a factor in result

Reached after the result was announced, Cook-Searson congratulated Vidal on his win. She said she does not think vote-splitting was a factor. Asked how she feels about both Indigenous women missing out on the seat, she said "it's OK," adding that she thinks voter turnout might have played a role. 

"People need to come out to vote, that's the main thing, people have to know that it's really important to get out to vote and just to take the time to cast your ballot and make it count and I think that's the main thing," Cook-Searson said.

She said she is proud of her campaign, which she described as an "amazing journey."

Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River has a population of about 70,000. According to the 2016 Census, about 70 per cent of that population identifies as Indigenous. 

Since 2006, the riding has had Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs. (CBC News Graphics)


Alicia Bridges is a former CBC Saskatoon reporter who is now working in Australia.